The School on the Fens (38)

By: Robert Waldron
October 26, 2013


HILOBROW is proud to present the thirty-eighth and final installment of Robert Waldron’s novel The School on the Fens. CLICK HERE to read all installments published thus far.



Iris and I were sitting down to dinner when the phone rang. An excited Jim Ford said to put on the news right away. The lead story was that Charles Blake of Charlestown had killed Headmaster Henry Farrell by a bullet to the head in the parking lot outside Classical High.

The morning newspaper reported that Blake, whose son had recently committed suicide, killed Farrell in a fit of rage, blaming the school’s environment of competition and excessive academic rigor for driving his son to suicide.

As I had expected would happen some day, the Boston Globe eulogized Henry Farrell in an editorial, describing him as an “educational leader ahead of his time,” as a man who “brought Classical High into the modern age,” as an educator that today’s teachers “should admire and emulate.”

The person responsible for the editorial wrote it as if he knew Farrell, but no one really knew him. What was known was the mask he had over the years carefully crafted. From the beginning of his career, Rell had tricked people into thinking he was something he wasn’t, or as Iris had once said, he “duped” everyone.

To discover the truth about his death, I would have to visit Charlestown. But the Townies were famous (or infamous depending on how you viewed it) for sticking together and maintaining a code of silence when tragedy visited their own. However, I was friendly with Tom Ryan, a lifetime resident of Charlestown whom I had known in high school. He confidentially relayed a story quite different from that of the Globe.

Todd Blake’s father had sunk into a deep depression after his son’s burial and began to drink heavily. He had always been a drinker, but no one had ever seen him drunk. After his son’s burial, he was often seen staggering home from local pubs. Todd had been his life and without him he was lost.

His sisters tried to help, but his grief consumed him. They feared he too would take his life and encouraged him to seek grief counseling, but he flat out refused. They also urged him to face Todd’s death by entering the boy’s bedroom: to keep what he wanted and to donate the rest to charity; however, the room had become a holy shrine, and he wouldn’t allow anyone to touch a thing, every item now a sacred relic. In the end, though, his curiosity won out, and he rummaged through his son’s belongings.

If during his grieving he stood at the edge of the abyss, he was pushed into it by what he found in his son’s book bag: an unfinished letter to Farrell, pleading to be left alone and two lurid photographs.

It was all he needed to know to kill Rell, and later himself while awaiting trial.


A new school year. Today our seventh graders had their first assembly meeting with our new headmaster, a Classical alumnus. He was warm and welcoming. No “look to your left and to your right” speech from him, only words of encouragement and wishes for success.

There were no references to our illustrious graduates whose names graced the frieze, thus no craning of necks, no gasps of astonishment from our twelve-year olds. Ed stood not far from me, and we gave each other a look as if to say, “Can you believe the difference?” And then Ed’s head bent slightly backward. My eyes followed the direction of his gaze, toward the oil portrait of Headmaster Henry Farrell, hanging in the most prominent place in the hallway for everyone to see.In the final empty space of the frieze appeared the name, Henry P. Farrell. I wondered, “Would we ever teach a day at Classical without thinking of Rell?”


Stay tuned!

ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”